The debate about contraception for young people has raged for decades, with the crux of the argument generally centred around whether giving contraceptive pills to young girls encourages sexual activity at too young an age. There is no doubt that the use of contraceptive pills can help young women to avoid falling pregnant at a potentially unprepared point in their lives, but is this benefit outweighed by the negative effect of sex actually being promoted to young people?
Depending on which side of the debate you are on, you will probably have a set opinion about the recent NHS report about contraception being offered without a prescription to girls as young as 13. This followed a study conducted at five pharmacies throughout boroughs of south London, where teen pregnancy rates are the highest in Europe.
When teenage girls visited those pharmacies for emergency contraception, they were also given a month’s supply of contraceptive pills. A year later, the number of women requiring emergency birth control had “dropped significantly” following the introduction of daily oral pills, according to the report.
The figures clearly suggest that the introduction of over-the-counter birth control might have a beneficial impact on reducing teenage pregnancy. However, not everyone is convinced. There is a worry that an increase in availability of contraceptive pills would correspond with an increase in the rise of sexually transmitted infections. This is a concern because there is a common misconception among young people that birth control pills protect against the spread of such diseases.
A further issue with contraception being made available in these age ranges is to do with the law. The age of consent in England and Wales for example is 16, which means, legally, that individuals can only engage in sex if they aged 16 and over. The argument put forth by some is that offering contraception to those aged under 16 undermines this law, which is after all put in place to protect young people. However, it is worth bearing in mind that it is quite clear that many young people choose to ignore the age of consent law anyway, and as such it is more important to ensure they are adequately protected.
The benefits of implementing these proposed changes could be very positive for young girls who clearly are not ready for pregnancy. This will reduce the numbers of situations where children grow up in unstable environments where they are not adequately supported. Ultimately, it could give young adults the ability to use their initiative and take responsibility for their sexual relationships by protecting themselves from pregnancy .
Personally, I think that providing contraceptive pills for girls, even those under the age of legal consent, is not necessarily a bad thing. If accompanied with adequate information and education it could be very beneficial and will not necessarily encourage young women to experience sex earlier or increase their risk of STIs.
However, 13 is very young for individuals to be having sex but whether we like it or not some young people will be sexually active and the responsibility of educating them as to the dangers lies with the parents. Offering contraception is a way of limiting the potential damage done to society by teenagers falling pregnant because birth control options are not available to them.
Please feel free to comment and give your opinion about how young is too young for contraception. Should there be a limit or is sooner better?
I think too much of a focus is being put on the "13" thing. It seems to me that a key thing is that these measures are for children "AS YOUNG AS" 13, not exclusively those who are 13. I'd imagine it would be very rare that 13 year olds would actually be the ones taking advantage of it.
The worrying thing for me is not whether people are encouraged to have sex at 13 just because they can get the pill (the same argument is made by the Vatican regarding free condoms - including as a way to prevent the spread of HIV). I'm not sure how safe it must be to pump 13-year-old girls full of hormones before they are fully developed and without a medical assessment it's surely even more dangerous?